Match Recap, Miami Semi-Finals: Thoughts on Serena-Simona

Serena WilliamsI’m not really sure where to start… I currently have a muddle of thoughts about last night’s semi-final between Serena Williams and Simona Halep.  Let’s start with the result! Williams edged Halep, 6-2 4-6 7-5, in two hours and eight minutes to reach the final of the 2015 Miami Open where she will play Carla Suarez Navarro.  It was a superb contest and just what the WTA needed right now.  Many of the world’s top ten have had an indifferent start to 2015 and a match-up like this, between two of the best players in the world, that DID deliver couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m so thankful for the four day Easter weekend as I had the opportunity to watch the full match back this morning and without knowing the result.  After watching Serena win the first set, I saw there were still over 90 minutes of the feed left so I knew there was a lot more tennis to come…

Serena came racing out the blocks and won the first set, 6-2 with some inspired tennis.  This was PEAK Serena and without doubt, the best set she’s played all year.  She was insanely sharp with her strokes but more importantly, her footwork.  She was working the angles beautifully and completely dominating Halep, winning almost twice as many points as her opponent from the baseline.  Serena was also untouchable on serve, losing just four points.  I thought Halep played a reasonable first set, but came up against a wall of power and intensity.  I honestly believe no WTA player could have lived with Serena in that first set.  Serena finished the set with 13 winners to 7 unforced errors, while Halep had 6 winners to 8 unforced errors.

Halep was still struggling to hit through the ball in the second set and generate a sufficient racquet head speed (an excellent point made by Bartoli in the TennisTV commentary).  However, her greatest attribute, at least in this match, was to basically stick around.  She looked reasonably calm considering the scoreline and never looked like folding.  There were also signs from the other end that Serena was starting to falter.  To her credit, Halep made a high percentage of first serves which was imperative to this match.  Serena started to miss more and more returns, and her footwork became increasingly laboured.  Halep earnt her opportunity at 4-4 in the second set and spurred on by a vociferous Romanian crowd from the stands, duly took it.  She served out the second set with no problems whatsoever.  This set was mostly on Serena’s racquet, but there was definitely a link between Serena missing more and Simona standing tall and not going away.  Halep won the set with just one winner! Serena’s unforced error tally of 20 was pretty telling…

Serena was MADDD at the start of the third set and the support from the Simona fans was obviously bothering her.  I had the sound pretty low so personally, I wasn’t paying much attention to it, but it could become an issue going forward.  Even in the comments section of some of my previews (thanks again for all your opinions!) I can see people turning on Halep because of this support.  Like her quarter-final against Sabine Lisicki, Serena got the early break in the third set and rode on it to 5-2.  Despite having a three game cushion, Serena still looked consistently miffed  and was gesticulating to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, on a regular basis.

Halep produced her best tennis of the entire match at the end of the third set as she rallied to win three straight games.  Serena served for the match at *5-3 and was broken to 15 with Halep producing a magnificent get to produce break points.  All square at 5-5, Serena looked to be crumbling at the seams.  However, this is where she demonstrated why she is world number one.  She managed to somehow settle herself and hold to 6-5.

This reminded me so much of Novak Djokovic.  There have been so many instances where Djokovic has faltered serving out sets and matches; the two most pertinent examples came against Roger Federer in the 2014 Wimbledon final and last week’s final in Indian Wells.  In the desert two weeks ago, Djokovic served up back-to-back double faults in the second set tiebreak and ended up losing it.  Battling against an almost entirely pro-Federer crowd, he completely lost his way and you could see him shaking at the changeover.  However, he STILL managed to come back and win that match, which I think is extraordinary.  Equally staggering to me was how Serena found a way to refocus and come back in this match.

The point that Serena played at 5-5 *40-30 third set was magnificent.  She reverted back to her tactics from the first set, using angles on the backhand to get Halep out wide and before unleashing a perfectly precise backhand down-the-line to seal the game.  This was essentially a virtual match point.  Serena broke Simona to love in the next game to prevail and reach the Miami Open final for the TENTH  time.  I enjoyed the TennisTV commentary for this match with Kevin Skinner and Marion Bartoli.  Bartoli has the tendency to talk during points, which can be infuriating! It depends what mood i’m in whether I can deal with it.  She was pretty good during this match and gave some great insights.  I did laugh out loud when she remarked on Serena doing shadow swings at the end and that it wasn’t just her who does that!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this match.  I’ve seen a few comments suggesting this was the best WTA match of 2015.  I’d have to disagree… as mentioned above, it was a great contest with an electric ending, but the quality during much of the second and third sets was messy.  Then again, it’s hard to pick out a real stand-out match from 2015… so  please, come at me with your thoughts on this 🙂

Photo in this post by Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

31 thoughts on “Match Recap, Miami Semi-Finals: Thoughts on Serena-Simona

  1. It’s odd that Serena hasn’t closed two matches this week where she’s won the first set. Djokovic is prone to losing concentration or getting complacent, but it rarely happens with Williams.
    I hope she takes CSN seriously in the final.

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    • I agree, Andrew… It is rare to see Serena lose her way as she has done in the last two matches. I was impressed that she managed to maintain her focus to win that third set.

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      • I am sure Serena was distracted by the brutal Halep’s fans from the court side especially in the second set and mid of the third set. I think WTA really need to look into this aspect not because of Serena but for the sake of other players who will play Halep in the future. I don’t want to see someone runs out to stab Halep’s opponent(s) like the incident happened to Seles or throwing tennis ball(s) during the point(s).

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    • I really like Carla, I really do, but seriously, she has absolutely no chance against Serena if she plays at least how she did in sets 2 and 3. Carla’s game while spectacular and with great footwork, is still far from what Simona can pull off. Unless Serena wants to take a breather during the final, this will be one unbalanced fight. With Serena in shape, it’s 2 straights. With her foot of the gas, it’s 3, Carla winning a tight one.

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    • lolllll I really don’t want to spark the debate. Serena/Halep semifinal in Miami has shown the world how these Halep’s fans abuse her opponent from the court side. Perhaps this defeat also implied that Halep’s Indian Wells Championship was gifted by Serena.

      Since you claimed that you are not a hater. I expect you to act like a genuine tennis fan and show your respect to anyone here. Overly defensive of someone when she get defeated is so painful and bitter. I know that feeling…llollllll 🙂

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      • Trolling much? Go read my comment above and find where I was bitter about her defeat or disrespectful of her opponent, now or ever. On the other hand, you need to understand that if you want respect, you need to give it and earn it. You’re on of the few people here that doesn’t really qualify, yet still preaches about it.

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      • Oh, Sudut! “Brutal”? Possible stabbings? You really are over-cooking this. Don’t let your hate blind you.

        And what about the Serena fans calling out, “Come on Serena” before Simona was about to serve in the 3rd set. I guess you all conveniently missed hearing that, eh? Yes, the Romanian fans (only a very few of them – let’s not overblow the problem) need to be more respectful. But, the same ‘rules’ should apply to other fans too. You know, hypocrisy is one of the worst character traits a person can have.

        About the match – Congrats to Serena. There wasn’t much Simona or anyone else could have done in the 1st set but I’m glad she kept fighting and that it went to 3 sets. She got a bit passive at times. She says she learns a lot from her matches against Serena, so I hope she has learned that she needs to be a bit more proactive against her. She did it in her terrific 2nd set in the round robin match in Singapore, so she knows how to. Still, a great run of titles and 14 consecutive wins for Simona. Much to be proud of.

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  2. Take the raw power out of Serena and yesterday’s match might have been on equal terms, but as you noted yourself, in the first set, Serena was at PEAK. And I don’t mean her A game, she was on her A++ legendary mode. In this circumstances no WTA player – to be honest I can add some ATP here too – out there would have stood a chance. Honestly believe that if this were Serena vs. Masha, Maria would have been simply crushed, 2 straights.

    The game was a feast to watch. It was a battle of sheer will and tenacity and as I said in a comment yesterday, the number of errors would highly influence the outcome. Serena did make a lot of them in the 2nd and 3rd set and while the stats show them as unforced errors, they were “forced”, at least to a mental level by Simona’s game. Serena knew she had to play to the extreme, outrun Simona’s footwork. She was constantly searching for line winners and when you do that, you’re bound to hit it out sometimes. She was still on her A game, and as proof stands the still big number of winners in those sets, but she was taking chances more than in the first set. Indeed, the last games, Simona’s comeback in the 3rd set was the best part of the match, with much longer and more spectacular points and rallies. Unfortunately for Simo, before the last game the “magic towel” didn’t work anymore. 🙂

    Right now, as it stands, these two are way way above any other player in the WTA right now, rising star, comeback player or long term legend. And I’m sure we’ve not seen the end of this “war”.

    Serena showed why she’s still no. 1, Simona showed why she’ll be no. 1. And it doesn’t take a retirement of The Queen for that to happen, it just takes winning and participating in more tournaments, just like the start of the season. If Serena doesn’t play more tournaments and double that with some mishap in Slams, her spot is in danger, and definitely not from Maria. The rest of the group is just too far behind to even dream, even if we’re only past 3 months in the year.

    In regards to the public, well, people love Simona. I mean they really really love her. And they are more exuberant than usually because this is the kind of star that they’ve been waiting for. What you see and hear is not regular cheering, it’s a freaking revolution of the “little people”, those who don’t get to be tall, blonde, ass-kissed by Tennis.com’s bias. Might be infuriating, but that’s because behind that kind of support there’s a lot of latent fury – a system fight? – and Simona, through her game and results gives them a venue to express it. Also, we should note that Nouni was “taking shots” and both players’ fans and it was not just once that I’ve heard out callings from the public while Simona was hitting. So, let’s just be honest. It was a battle of guts and will on court, it was bound to be one in the public too, no matter if some around like to play it more catholic than the Pope.

    Thanks for the time and effort to cover these two tournaments (IW and Miami) James, it’s a pleasure reading, even though we don’t always agree on outcomes or predictions. It’s still an opinion blog, not a statistics one.

    Cheers and congrats to Serena, well deserved win and so proud of the little fighter girl Simona!

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    • You forgot to mention the brutal fans aspect who verbally abused Serena from the court side and distracted her during her service games worrying that she would hammer a few more aces.

      Again, 23 still struggles to beat the 33, this tells it off they are in different categories. How many Grand Slam Serena had won when she was 23 years old? Serena is simply the best that Halep can’t match even when Serena is aging. Since Halep has not won any grand slam, you should compare her with Bartoli, Stosur and those who had won one grand slam. If she manages to cross the hurdle, then you compare her with Li Na, Petra and the rest. Serena is too far and high up for her to reach until she manages to win 19 Slams.

      I really like Halep after she reached the RG final. With her unethical fans, I really don’t want to be part of it. I hope they behave ethically in Halep future matches.

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      • Mate, you’re seriously not worth the effort. I’m sorry, no real disrespect, but I’d like to keep talking to people that can talk with a clear head. I’m tiring of BS statements like “I really like Halep” coming from people that on every match she has seem to turn into unconditional and long-term fans of her opponents. Tennis matches are about “NOW”, about what happens ON COURT at that very moment. In that moment, Serena’s history means nothing. Simona’s history means nothing. The only thing that matters is what they do right then and there. After that, it turns into stats and history. History will never help you win shit unless you can back it up with game or if you just encounter a player that trembles in front of you. Now, let’s just talk on GAME, if you keep pushing biased comments, there’s nothing else to discuss.

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      • Sudut, in the very past years the players in WTA (as well in ATP) circuit progressed a lot as tennis game changed, being much more physically demanding and intense. 60-70 consecutive winning streaks like Navratilova and Graf had in the 80s – mid 90s looks impossible now. As well, few players managed since the early 2000s to win more than 5 GS. Serena, Venus, Justine, Maria… and that’s it.
        Now it’s much more difficult for any WTA player to stay in top 10 without pushing the body to the limit over the season. When injured, players are losing top 20 easily. There are plenty of players outside top 30 now that back in the days could be in top 10 with their current game level.
        Simona Halep never started as a wonder-girl of the circuit, definitely is not the most talented, as well her shots are not landmarks in the circuit. But she manages to ballance all (shots, positioning, defense, serves) and places herself in top 5 of any aspects of the game.
        Serena won her titles along many years, her name in tennis history is well placed on top. No way Simona Halep will contest her carreer achievements but today she is there in the battle for no1 place. Same way as 2 years ago the fight was between Serena and Vika, and in the future Garbine, Karolina or Madison will make their room in top 3. But none of them will reach 18 GS or at least 10, even after Serena and Maria will leave the circuit.
        As per Halep’s fans, I’ll say nothing on their defense, but emulation around any certain player was always present. Many of them are new tennis consumers, anyhow Tennis spectators are far from hooliganism no mather of venue and players playing. I’ve seen some GS matches with people behaving similar.

        James, nice rows 🙂

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    • You are just like those Halep’s fan on Facebook or Tennis Forum that can’t accept the reality and facts. You keep trolling your “PhD” thesis here won’t help her to win and make people love her. In fact, people starting to hate her because of her fans :). After all, what do we get from them as a fan? Nothing, absolutely nothing. I actually spent more money to purchase tickets to watch matches. From the monetary perspective, we are all losers. I hope you did not bet Halep to win instead of Serena 2-1.

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      • Sure I am. Thanks for the fine analysis, I guess you’re the one holding the PhD in psychology and tennis both. No argument there. And btw, those who WOULD start to hate her, never really loved her. And those who hate a player for whatever a 3rd party does demonstrate serious lack of ability to pass a judgement on their own. Reality and facts state this: In the last 2 years, after Serena, no WTA player managed to gather as many titles and grow as much as Simona did. Fact. Not Muguruza, not Pliskova, not Sharapova, not Bouchard, Stosur, Woz, anyone. That’s the reality. It’s easy cheering for Serena, she’s at number one and that’s what conjuncture tennis fans do. It’s harder to stick around for the underdog.

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    • Alex if you believe that the 1st set was Serena at her absolute best you have another thing coming….. Serena played very well in the 1st set, she definitely brought her A game, but 2 aces from the greatest server of all time!!!! Come on she still had another gear to go into especially with her serve… The simple fact remains that if Serena is even at her ‘A’ game then she will most likely win matches, as for Simona she is a fabulous player but as with Maria her chances of winning are when Serena doesn’t show up or bring her ‘A’ game. I just wanted to reiterate that this WASN’T Serena’s best ever performance, far from it, whilst very good it is hardly the best I have ever seen her play…..

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      • Being a great server doesn’t make you a great player and I really believe that’s NOT what makes Serena “The Queen”. Her court positioning, powerful strokes, awareness of opponent movement and intentions, speed from line to net and back, these are the things that make her great and from this perspective, she brought her A+ game in set 1. Serve is just an added bonus to an already overwhelming player of her caliber.

        I never said it was her best performance, but the fact that she made a fabulous game and also so many errors is in a big part due to the annoying little Romanian fighter. The serve only worked in part cause she wanted to simply demolish Simona, knowing she’s a good returner again most servers. When you go all out, risky, you are going to mess up. Like wise, all those unforced errors cm away from the line? She played on the edge. She had to if she wanted to outrun Simona’s speed. That’s it. Saying Serena didn’t do an amazing job and didn’t bring her A game just because the opponent pushed her to make mistakes (it happens) take away credit from both players’ efforts… That’s what I believe anyway.

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    • Im sorry Alex but I completely agree with what ‘The Truth’ commented. It is well documented that Serena’s best asset is her serve. Furthermore, she has played against far greater returners than Simona, Graff, Henin, Venus, Mauresmo, Azarenka, Clijsters etc etc etc… whilst Simona has great movement she wasn’t the reason why serena was missing she wasn’t playing in her normal way, she was missing simple shots as well, it WASN’T Simona pushing Serena to hit closer to the lines….. Please acknowledge that Serena has played against better returners (and served more aces) and better ‘getters’ who are faster than Simona (not to put down Halep’s ability she is incredibly fast and accurate) but it was Serena missing, Serena not hitting her serve…. Also you comment ‘A++, Serena at her legendary best) to be honest whilst she played very well it wasn’t ‘legendary best.’

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  3. When Serena brings her A game she has shown she is simply unbeatable,that was the case in the 1st set against Simona,in the 2nd set Serena had too many UFE for starters,giving Simona the opportunity to win the 2nd set.The 3rd set one could see Serena was uptight and anxious,I admire Simona and I admire the fight that she showed in this match.Personally it wasn’t the best match I have watched so far this year.In regards to the fans,yes Simona fans at times were loud and noisy,it actually felt like a Davis Cup tie match in ways:) or maybe I should say Fed Cup tie:) in saying that we can’t hold Simona responsible for her fans or judge her because of her fans,she has no control in that area.Serena at times felt rattled because of them,as a player you have to be able to shut it out.The umpire had to say to the crowd many times during the match not to call out during the rallies.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Margaret. Agree with everything you said. Personally, I think it’s unfair to judge Simona based on the support from her fans. She seems like a genuinely decent person and I certainly wouldn’t hold that against her.

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  4. A little bit late for me.
    To me I would have liked to see Serena win in 2 sets because she deserved it in terms of the game she played.

    Anyways, Simona played so well that she could take the 2nd set (despite some errors Serena produced in important points.) But that was nerve and pressure that Simona put on Serena resulting in those errors. Yet I’m glad that Serena eventually prevailed.

    In regard to the fan stuff, I have to say that Simona’s fans were pretty annoying and classless as seen during the match, yelling/booing during the point/serve. I swear I have never seen such fans like this for quite a long time.

    To me, Simona’s talents/performances are what I really appreciate, except some of her so-called fans that annoy me a great deal.

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  5. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Serena play as well as she has in the 1st set. The strategy she set with her coach was clear: 1st strike tennis, don’t allow Halep to get any rhythm (Mouratoglu kept telling her during the match to be as aggressive as possible on returns). Of course, when you play like that, the margin for error is very small, hence not even Serena could maintain that level for two full sets.

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  6. I finally watched the match and don’t think Serena was close to her best. Even in that first set, her first serve wasn’t happening and that is a huge part of her game. But it was entertaining nonetheless.

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  7. I think it was a great match, but overall its so overrated. In quiality of tennis i stay with the AO final (that 2 set blew me away) and i alse like the brisbane final over this match.

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